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National Columnists

Another view: Lawmakers shouldn't take a dime from video gambling industry

Voters deserve to have public policy set by legislators who aren’t getting cash from one side of the debate.

Gee whiz, you folks in the video gambling business, could you hire us to be sales reps?

The money looks excellent, and we promise to write glowing editorials about video gambling and to fight any effort to tax it more.

Is that quid pro quo too close for comfort? Well, then, we have kids. Maybe you could hire one of our kids and hope nobody notices. And we’ll write glowing editorials about video gambling.

We’re joking, of course. But that, in a way, is exactly what’s happening right now in Springfield and at the county level. Elected officials are working for the video gambling industry – pulling in good money – and then, as legislators, participating in the big decisions about how to tax and regulate that very same industry.

Our worry meter was dialing up last week as big legislation involving the video gambling industry reached a head in Springfield.

As a story in Tuesday’s Chicago Sun-Times by Jason Grotto of ProPublica Illinois and Dan Mihalopoulos of WBEZ Chicago spelled out, financial links between lawmakers and the video gambling industry can pose the worst possible conflicts of interest, and it is for this very reason that a lot of folks opposed video gambling for years. The danger of dark influences has always been great.

With that in mind, allow us to make some points:

• State Senate Minority Leader Bill Brady, R-Bloomington, should not be working for the video gambling industry in any capacity. It’s not enough for him to say he always will act in the public interest, even as he takes a cut from video slot and poker machines. Boy Scout pledges do not reassure us.

• Senate Assistant Majority Leader Antonio Munoz’s son should not be working for the industry. Junior’s hiring by a business looking for friends in Springfield looks entirely suspect. This is a kid who left a city job – his dad is a Chicago Democrat – in which he repeatedly was suspended for failing to even show up. If the kid insists on keeping the job, maybe Dad should quit.

• No elected official – we’re looking at you, state Sen. Tom Cullerton and Cook County Commissioners Deborah Sims and Peter Silvestri – should be allowed to have a direct or indirect financial interest in video gambling. The history of gambling in this state and country is just too shady.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker is going down the right road in seeking to further tax video gambling to raise an additional $90 million to help fund a much-needed $41.5 billion capital bill. The state’s roads and bridges are crumbling, and Illinois’ tax rate on video gambling is among the lowest in the country. The industry’s lobbyists, bouncing all over Springfield, are doing their best to block the tax increase, even as they seek to rake in more money for the industry by trying to increase minimum bets from $2 to $4 and increase the maximum number of gambling machines at each location from five to six. Did we mention that Illinois already has more video gambling machines outside of casinos than any other state?

Video gambling laws in Illinois favor the industry, not the people of Illinois or taxpayers. The state does not even set aside money in licensing and administrative fees to cover the costs of policing the industry, which is what the fees were intended to do.

Who’s looking out for you when elected officials, even if only a handful, are directly or indirectly on the payroll of the video gaming industry?

Chicago Sun-Times

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